Slovakia: Kosice

Košice (Slovak pronunciation: [ˈkɔʃitsɛ]) is the largest city in eastern Slovakia and in 2013 was the European Capital of Culture (together with Marseille, France). It is situated on the river Hornád at the eastern reaches of the Slovak Ore Mountains, near the border with Hungary. With a population of approximately 240,000 Košice is the second largest city in Slovakia after the capital Bratislava.

Being the economic and cultural centre of eastern Slovakia, Košice is the seat of the Košice Region and Košice Self-governing Region, the Slovak Constitutional Court, three universities, various dioceses, and many museums, galleries, and theatres. Košice is an important industrial centre of Slovakia, and the U.S. Steel Košice steel mill is the largest employer in the city. The town has extensive railway connections and an international airport.

The city has a well-preserved historical centre, which is the largest among Slovak towns. There are many heritage protected buildings in Gothic, Renaissance, Baroque, and Art Nouveau styles with Slovakia's largest church: the St. Elisabeth Cathedral. The long main street, rimmed with aristocratic palaces, Catholic churches, and townsfolk's houses, is a thriving pedestrian zone with many boutiques, cafés, and restaurants. The city is well known as the first settlement in Europe to be granted its own coat-of-arms.

The first written mention of the city was in 1230 as "Villa Cassa". The Slovak name of the city comes from the Slavic personal name Koša with the patronymic Slavic suffix "-ice". The city may derive its name from Old Slovak kosa, "clearing", related to modern Slovak kosiť, "to reap". Though according to other sources the city name may derive from an old Hungarian first name which begins with "Ko".

Historically, the city has been known as Kaschau in German, Kassa in Hungarian ([ˈkɒʃʃɒ] (About this sound listen)), Kaşa in Turkish, Cassovia in Latin, Cassovie in French, Cașovia in Romanian, Кошице (Košice) in Russian, Koszyce in Polish and קאשוי Kashau in Yiddish (see here for more names). Below is a chronology of the various names:

In 1604, Catholics seized the Lutheran church in Kassa. The Calvinist Stephen Bocskay then occupied Kassa during his Protestant, Ottoman-backed insurrection against the Habsburg dynasty. The future George I Rákóczi joined him as a military commander there. Giorgio Basta, commander of the Habsburg forces, failed in his attempt to capture the city. At the Treaty of Vienna (1606), in return for giving territory including Kassa back, the rebels won the Hapsburg concession of religious toleration for the Magyar nobility and brokered an Austrian-Turkish peace treaty. Stephen Bocskay died in Kassa on December 29, 1606 and was interred there.
Principality of Transylvania under Gabriel Bethlen, including Košice shown as 'Kassa'

For some decades during the 17th century Kassa was part of the Principality of Transylvania, and consequently a part of the Ottoman Empire and was referred to as Kaşa in Turkish. On September 5, 1619, the prince of Transylvania, Gabriel Bethlen captured Kassa with the assistance of the future George I Rákóczi in another anti-Habsburg insurrection. By the Peace of Nikolsburg in 1621, the Habsburgs restored the religious toleration agreement of 1606 and recognized Transylvanian rule over the seven Partium countries: Ugocsa, Bereg, Zemplén, Borsod, Szabolcs, Szatmár and Abaúj (including Kassa). Bethlen married Catherine von Hohenzollern, of Johann Sigismund Kurfürst von Brandenburg, in Kassa in 1626.

Bethlen married Catherine von Hohenzollern, of Johann Sigismund Kurfürst von Brandenburg, in Košice in 1626.

Jews had lived in Košice since the 16th century but were not allowed to settle permanently. There is a document identifying the local coiner in 1524 as a Jew and claiming that his predecessor was a Jew as well. Jews were allowed to enter the city during the town fair, but were forced to leave it by night, and lived mostly in nearby Rozunfaca. In 1840 the ban was removed, and before that there were a few Jews living in the town, among them a widow who ran a small Kosher restaurant for the Jewish merchants passing through the town.

Košice was ceded to Hungary, by the First Vienna Award, from 1938 until early 1945. The town was bombarded on June 26, 1941 by a still unidentified aircraft, in what became a pretext for the Hungarian government to declare war on the Soviet Union a day later.

Košice has a population of 240,688 (December 31, 2011). According to the 2011 census, 73.8% of its inhabitants were Slovaks, 2.65% Hungarians, 2% Romani, 0.65% Czechs, 0.68% Rusyns, 0.3% Ukrainians, and 0.13% Germans. 19% of Košice's population did not declare their ethnic affiliation in the 2011 census.

The religious makeup was 45% Roman Catholics, 16.6% people with no religious affiliation, 6.12% Greek Catholics, and 2.33% Lutherans, 2% Calvinists and 0.11% Jews.

In 2008 Košice won the competition among Slovakian cities to hold the prestigious title European Capital of Culture 2013. Project Interface aims at transformation of Košice from a centre of heavy industry to a postindustrial city with creative potential and new cultural infrastructure. Project authors bring to Košice a concept of creative economy – merging of economy and industry with arts, where transformed urban space encourages development of certain fields of creative industry (design, media, architecture, music and film production, IT technologies, creative tourism). The artistic and cultural program stems from a conception of sustained maintainable activities with long-lasting effects on cultural life in Košice and its region. The main project venues are:

Kasárne Kulturpark – 19th-century military barracks turned into new urban space with a centre of contemporary art, exhibition and concert halls and workshops for creative industry.
Kunsthalle – a 1960s disused swimming pool turned into the first Kunsthalle in Slovakia.
SPOTs – 1970s and 1980s disused heat exchangers turned into cultural "spots" in Communist-Era-block-of-flats districts.
City park, Park Komenského and Mojzesova – revitalisation of urban spaces.
Castle of Košice, Amfiteáter, Mansion of Krásna, Handicrafts Street – reconstruction.
Tabačka – a 19th-century tobacco factory turned into a centre of independent culture.

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